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Facts about dairy nutrition and health

The health impacts of milk and dairy foods are often misunderstood.

There is a lot of misinformation about dairy and some people choose to avoid dairy products as a result, missing out on their health and nutritional benefits. Studies show that when consumed as part of a healthy diet, dairy products contribute to better bone health and improve overall diet quality.

Why are dairy products important for a balanced diet?

Milk and dairy products can be important sources of calcium, magnesium, selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid.

Consumption of dairy can bring important nutritional benefits to large segments of the population in developing and developed countries. Most countries recommend at least one serving of milk or milk products daily; some, up to four servings each day.

Dairy is a highly nutritious food which provides:

  • High quality protein: A glass of milk contains 8-10 grams of protein, about one-fifth the daily recommendation for a 135-pound person.
  • Important minerals such as: calcium, iodine, phosphorus and potassium
  • Vitamin B2, B5 and B12

Dairy is also great for muscle recovery and hydration after exercise, and some types of fermented dairy (like kefir and live yoghurt) contain probiotics which are great for our gut health.

Making it clear about milk and dairy

There are a few misconceptions we often hear about dairy. For example, some consumers have become more concerned about saturated fat and as it is found in milk and dairy foods, and it is often assumed dairy plays a role in the possibility of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes. In fact, dairy is associated with positive health benefits at all life stages.

Fact: Dairy does not increase risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes. 

  • In fact, a growing body of scientific research shows that the consumption of milk and dairy foods has a neutral or protective association with the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Firstly, the role of saturated fat in heart disease has been questioned; secondly, saturated fat is now known to be a ‘family’ of compounds, rather than a single entity, and research suggests some of these may not be detrimental to heart health; thirdly, it is more sensible to look at the effects of consuming a food, rather than the individual nutrients within that food, on disease risk.
  • By simply looking at saturated fat and disregarding the complex interplay of nutrients and the variety of saturated fatty acids found in the dairy matrix, consumers are sent the wrong message about milk and dairy foods.

Fact: Milk and dairy have a positive impact on bone health at all life stages.

  • Milk and dairy foods provide both the calcium and protein that bones need, in the right proportions, making it an excellent food to consume throughout life to build and maintain strong bones. 
  • Bones store minerals such as calcium and phosphorous that help keep our bones strong. However, bones can become weak and break (fractures) or become porous and brittle (osteoporosis).
  • There are many things that can help keep our bones healthy and strong, and the good news is that it is never too late to take care of your bones.


The role of animal sourced foods - achieving balance

The unique and complementary roles of animal and plant-sourced foods in a sustainable food system requires a balanced approach.

Sustainable healthy diets are a balance between plant and animal-source foods. It is important to recognise the synergy between plant and animal foods – both have their place in healthy global diets.

It is also vital to recognise that plant based beverages do not offer the same package of nutrients as milk.

Plant-based beverages are fortified and do not offer the same nutritional benefits as milk and milk products. Plant-based diets, complemented with animal-based foods, increases the variety and bioavailability of vitamins and minerals, and ensures a high-quality source of protein.

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IDF provides a permanent source of authoritative scientific and other information on a whole range of topics relevant to the dairy sector.

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IDF provides a permanent source of authoritative scientific and other information on a whole range of topics relevant to the dairy sector.